CU Buffs’ Mark Perry took step forward this season

Safety is fourth on the team with 66 tackles

Safety Mark Perry #5 of the Colorado Buffaloes intercepts  pass intended for tight end Greg Dulcich #85 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA Football game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, November 13, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)
Safety Mark Perry #5 of the Colorado Buffaloes intercepts pass intended for tight end Greg Dulcich #85 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA Football game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, November 13, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)
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A few days ago, Colorado safety Mark Perry compared his statistics from 2020 and this season.

The difference was significant.

“Everybody’s gonna have their own opinions, but I’m good with myself,” Perry said. “I feel like I’ve been making a lot more plays. I feel like I’ve done a good job and my teammates trust me.”

While this season has not gone as hoped for the Buffaloes (4-7, 3-5 Pac-12), Perry’s development has been a bright spot as they go into the finale at No. 16 Utah (8-3, 7-1; No. 19 in CFP rankings) on Friday in Salt Lake City (2:05 p.m., TV: Fox).

BOULDER, CO – April 19, 2021: Colorado Buffaloes safety Mark Perry during spring football practice. (University of Colorado Athletics)

Playing in all five regular-season games last year, Perry was on the field for 72 percent of the defensive snaps but recorded just 10 tackles and one pass breakup. He had one tackle for every 25.3 snaps played.

This year, he has started all 11 games at free safety, has played 90.5 percent of the snaps and is fourth on the team with 66 tackles (one for every 10.5 snaps). He also has two interceptions, three pass breakups, two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.

“It feels a lot better,” Perry said of his season compared to a year ago. “It just does a lot for my confidence, just knowing I’m able to go out there and take another step from where I was last year.”

As a true freshman in 2019, CU’s former coaching staff put Perry in a specialized role, playing nickel. He responded with several impact plays, including 1.5 sacks and 4 tackles for loss, despite limited snaps.

Last year, first-year head coach Karl Dorrell and defensive coordinator Tyson Summers put Perry in a safety role.

“I felt pretty comfortable going into last year and then last year didn’t go how I wanted it to,” said Perry, who was critical of his play this past offseason, vowing to be better this year.

Now in his third season at CU and second at safety, Perry has been better and has settled into his spot in the back of the defense, led by first-year coordinator Chris Wilson.

“Being able to bounce back this year and just pick up momentum as the season went on was big for me,” he said.

“(The difference) is just being confident, really. First couple of games this year, I felt confident, I felt like I was going out there doing my job. But I felt like I was leaving a couple of plays on the field. In recent weeks, I feel like I haven’t been leaving those plays on the field. I haven’t really been missing tackles; stuff like that. I’m just being efficient, making the most of the opportunities I’m getting.”

Perry’s consistency and confidence have been crucial for the Buffs as they’ve played several freshmen in the secondary during the second half of the season. While Perry is usually lined up next to Isaiah Lewis at safety, the Buffs have worked true freshman Tyrin Taylor into that spot, as well.

“There’s been a lot of times … I look over and I’m thinking it’s Isaiah and I look over and it’s Tyrin, and I’m like, ‘I gotta make sure he knows his stuff,’ and just keep him ahead of what’s going on,” Perry said. “If they line up in one formation, I’m (telling him), ‘Be ready. When they motion, we turn it into this.’ Just keeping him ahead so that when something happens, he’s not just out there stuck.”

Three other true freshmen – cornerbacks Kaylin Moore and Nikko Reed and safety Trevor Woods – have also played more in recent weeks.

Perry is excited about the Buffs’ future in the secondary, which is loaded with underclassmen. With the season winding down, the NCAA’s transfer portal will be active, but Perry said he’s planning to return for his fourth season at CU and keep improving. But he wants to make sure the Buffs play well on Friday first.

“Obviously, this year didn’t go how we wanted it to or how we planned it, but I feel like everybody’s bought in to finish strong,” he said.